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Larkin: Why Independents Continue To Stand Out

Peter Larkin
Peter Larkin

by Peter Larkin/ president and CEO, National Grocers Association
Special to The Shelby Report

Food retail is transforming. Disruption is changing the landscape.

However, that doesn’t mean everything changes. Retailers still need to engage customers and provide exceptional products and services.

No one understands this better than independent supermarket operators. They go the extra mile to engage customers, especially as the supermarket industry gets more competitive.

There are countless examples of how this plays out. Here are a few that we at NGA have heard from our members:

Dogged Deliveries: Coborn’s makes friends with the family dog by bringing along dog biscuits on home shopping deliveries. The St. Cloud, Minnesota-based independent retailer has made significant investments in e-commerce, for everything from online experience to fulfillment. The company provides extensive training to drivers, because they are the face of the service. Drivers are encouraged to ask customers how they feel about their delivery experiences. This engagement even extends to considering the needs of the family dog, a fact that underscores the independent’s extreme focus on details to please shoppers. 

“Meating” Community Needs: Ptacek’s IGA set the record for producing the longest bratwurst, at more than 300 feet, as a unique way of enhancing community engagement. That’s a tall order for a 100-year-plus, one-store independent operator based in Prescott, Wisconsin. The independent has been running special events for years dedicated to creating excitement and generating money for community causes. Why a bratwurst, you may ask? Not only is it highly popular in the Midwest, but it also commemorates the fact that Ptacek’s began as a meat market in downtown Prescott back in 1912.

Bald Marketing: Niemann Foods’ executives dared to show off their baldness as part of a unique social media program to engage customers. An online video series called “Two Bald Guys Eat Stuff and Talk About It” has been popular with shoppers, who enjoy viewing the mix of tasting, banter and humor. This and other Niemann’s online efforts have produced impressive social media metrics and boosted customer engagement.

Presenting Fish Stories: Green Valley Marketplace created a crab pretzel to present a unique prepared foods signature item to customers. The Baltimore-based independent operator embraces the importance of deli items that are fresh-made in store from scratch, using fresh ingredients. This strategy runs through a wide range of its offerings, from chicken wings to salads to cold lunch sandwich programs. The company is known for signature items designed with an understanding of local tastes. That’s what led to the innovative crab pretzel.

Why does all this independent innovation matter? The food retail industry has become ultra-competitive, and similar products and services are now available everywhere, including online.

In the face of all this, independents have stuck to their unique and winning ways. They continue to customize for local markets and offer distinctive products, in-store experiences, and services. They are willing to go the extra mile to achieve this. It’s a story that’s becoming increasingly apparent to customers.

This story needs to be driven home with trading partners. They are under a lot of pressure to produce innovative programs for a quick-changing industry. They realize the stakes are higher than ever. Who better than independents to help them test and learn? Independents are flexible and collaborative. They can help suppliers build great stories for products and services.

Independents should feel good about their successes and realize the importance of keeping up the momentum. It’s making a difference. They need to keep their compass pointed on innovation and local customer needs, because that’s how they’ll win.

Editor’s note: On Oct. 25, Larkin announced that he will retire from NGA effective Dec. 31, 2019, following a nearly-40-year career in the supermarket industry.

During Larkin’s tenure, NGA’s retail and wholesale membership growth that has more than doubled, the association says, adding that “member engagement for the organization is at an all-time high as evidenced by the numerous member-driven share groups and committees, as well as the continued record-breaking growth of The NGA Show, which has nearly tripled its attendance levels with Larkin at the helm.”

We look forward to working with Peter until then.


Keep reading:

Larkin Retiring As President And CEO Of NGA

Larkin: Independent Grocers Are Vitally Important To Political Process

Larkin: Communication, Education Help Drive Shopper Satisfaction

About the author

Alissa Marchat

A word nerd, grocery geek and three-year member of The Shelby Report. She is a proud new homeowner and a great lover of avocado toast.

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